Friday, 1 February 2008

Cauliflower cheese (Κουνουπίδι με τυρί)

This is the first year that we planted cauliflower in our garden. To our delight, four of the five plants turned into big white flowers, and are now waiting for us to use our culinary skills on them. We often eat cauliflower boiled, dressed with lemon, salt and olive oil, just like our horta. I remember coming across a dish called cauliflower cheese numerous times in Women's Weekly magazines and basic cookbooks when I was in New Zealand. I had never eaten it when I was living there, so I thought I'd give it a go now that the cauliflowers are abundant in our garden, and if the rest fo the family liked it, we could make it again (or never waste our time on it ever again if they didn't).

Time is always a pressure , and today there was simply not enough of it to make a very creative meal. Whichever recipe I used, I decided it would have to be something that sounded simple to make. As usual, I consulted Google for a quick look at various recipes; when you run out of ideas, another person's food blog is always a good solution. When I'm looking for a recipe, I usually go no further than the first ten links. This may sound a bit prejudiced; after all, I have realised that some people have found links to my own website by looking much, much further than the first page with the top 10 links. Time is of the essence here once again. I'd need a research assistant to surf the 250,000 sites mentioned in the google-search of "cauliflower cheese". The first ten sites will do. In fact, as the list proves below, once past the first six sites, the recipes become variations of the traditional one.

No. 1: - no photo. Skip it.
No. 2: - very simple, no strange ingredients. Bookmark it.
No 3: - there is an over-use of the word "organic" in the recipe; sounds suspicious. Skip it.
No. 4: - no photo. Skip it.
No. 5: - nobody in my family is on a diet; the photo looked wholly unappetising. It reminded me of a boiled cauliflower, not something cooked in the oven. Skip it.
No. 6: - this site provides a list of recipes to choose from; I haven't got time to check their list. I just want one recipe. Skip it.
No. 7: - the recipe listed mentions salmon. No need to read further. Skip it.
No. 8: - looks similar to No. 2. Bookmark it.
No. 9: - uses the words "pie" and "crust". Not the traditional recipe. Skip it.
No. 10: - looks superb, but has the same problem as Nos. 7 and 9. It goes way past the traditional recipe; since when were pasta and ham included in cauliflower cheese? Skip it.

The more sites you eliminate in the first round, the less you will have to compare. The two sites that I am left with to compare list similar ingredients. aww includes mustard and nutmeg, even though tesco has a more appealing photo. I go for aww. Both recipes sounded too milky for my liking. I decided to jazz them up a little. Now that I have made and eaten this dish, I realise I should have been more creative in choosing alternative ingredients to suit local tastes. It is always a temptation to follow the instructions to the letter the first time you try making something, even if the recipe does sound rather dull. Look at the photos and compare them with a meal like soutzoukakia or gigandes. You can't expect much from a cauliflower cheese; after all, it is a British dish, and we all know what they used to eat before the Indians and the Chinese emitted aromas that caused the Brits' nostrils to seep and their eyes to water. Here is my version of the traditional English favorite of cauliflower cheese.

You need:
1 medium head of cauliflower
50g butter (I should have used olive oil, which is the Mediterranean (and healthier) alternative to butter, but I don't know if it works well for bechamel sauce, which is obviously what I'm going to make)
1 onion, chopped small (I need to hide the milky taste of this dish. I know my husband won't like it if he doesn't smell tomato, onion or garlic in a cooked dish) 2 cloves of garlic, minced (I already added onion, so I may as well add the garlic)
50g plain flour
2 ¾ cups milk
1 tablespoon dijon mustard (whatever mustard you have in the house will probably do)
1 cup of grated tasty cheese (a down-under's way of describing nameless, mass-produced cheese made - most likely - by the national milk company; tasty cheese had a slightly saltier, spicier taste than mild cheese. Europeans - including Greeks - never buy cheese labelled in this way. The equivalent of an Australian-New Zealand tasty cheese is something like Regato)
1 cup parmesan, grated (I used Regato in both instances; now that I think about it, I should have used the local cheese - mizithra - for a creamier, more local taste)
½ teaspoon salt
white pepper (a cook's ploy: cauliflower is white, so if black pepper is used, it may give a 'dirty' look to the cauliflower. Use black pepper if you don't have any white pepper)
freshly grated nutmeg
Cut cauliflower into small florets. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add cauliflower, cook 4 minutes or until just tender; drain. Cauliflower doesn't cook till tender in four minutes. It all depends on the size of the florets. Cook it till it is soft, otherwise you may as well leave it raw.
Pre-heat oven at 200°C or 180°C fan-forced. Butter (better still, oil) a pyrex dish (not a metal tin; the cheesy sauce will stick to it, and it will be difficult to scrape off) large enough to fit the florets in tightly. Melt butter in a medium saucepan, and stir in the onion and garlic. Don't wait for them to brown, just draw out their aromas. Then stir in the flour and cook over gentle heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Gradually add milk, bring to the boil. Add the mustard and 3/4 of the cheeses. Stir until melted, season with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg. To assemble, place cauliflower in the dish gratin dish pour sauce to cover, sprinkle with parmesan and dot lightly with butter. Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes (that's why you have to make sure that the cauliflower is soft-boiled) or until a light crust forms.

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